MØ’s ‘Motordrome’ scrapes the surface of pandemic vulnerability

Illustration of racers in a motordrome with a fluorescent green light cast over it.
Karissa Ho/Staff

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Nothing is more indie than claiming inspiration from the most mindless everyday commonalities, and in this case, it’s a motorcycle racetrack. 

Danish pop star Karen Marie Aagaard Ørsted Andersen, better known by her stage name MØ, returns with her third LP Motordrome. Known for her featured work with other electronic artists, such as Major Lazar on hit “Lean On” and Snakehips with “Don’t Leave,” Andersen stands on her own for the first time since the release of her last album, Forever Neverland

The 10-track LP is characteristic of Andersen’s hearty vocals and dark synths that live up to its title, where the singer drew inspiration from the feelings of burnout and isolation after consistent touring. Yet, Motordrome is heavy listening: It starkly contrasts the carefree positive electronic progression found in her usual work. 

Instead, the album engulfs the listener through its harrowing lyrics and somber instrumentals, which remind its audience of forgotten feelings of claustrophobia and distress in early pandemic days. Pandemic-influenced projects are not few and far between, and as year three of the pandemic approaches, it’s easier to want to move on. Unfortunately, Motordrome gets left behind. 

For an album that is meant to act as an artistic catharsis, it begins with the track “Kindness,” which sounds like it was made for commercial use. Lyrics such as “I’m in love with your kindness/ In love with the mystery,” repeat behind a disjointed beat with clunky cuts of random sounds and ad-libs. 

The track references Andersen looking toward her fans for the light at the end of the tunnel and reminiscing on loving and dedicated fans. It’s a sweet gesture, but the tacit knowledge required to appreciate it isn’t obvious. Instead, the track sounds as though it was made to harass retail workers during an eight-hour shift. 

Not all bad, though, Motordrome has its few shining moments. “Live to Survive,” produced by Samuel George Lewis — known for his stellar work as DJ and producer S.G. Lewis — has his signature twinkling synths and rise-to-drop structure. Alongside Andersen’s gutsy vocals, the beat is extraordinarily fun and leaves the listener coming back for more. 

Andersen sings, “I live to survive another heartache/ I live to survive another mistake,” which is the positive energy necessary in 2022. On the album, “Live to Survive” is the shining star, and it’s difficult to mourn what could have been if more tracks relinquished their dark composition to more upbeat tunes. 

“Brad Pitt,” the seventh track on the album, is also promising: It’s a refreshing pop-saturated love song with hints of electric guitar and synths while staying true to Andersen’s trademark. The track is well written in that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it isn’t long lasting — one listen is enough. 

All of the tracks on the record begin to slowly sound the same through continued listening. The problems are just as repetitive: Andersen’s vocals strain on “Punches,” another track characterized by a solemn guitar and spiraling beat; its lyricism insincerely conjures hope while bearing unnecessary, pandering social commentary. “Cool to Cry” has the same overplayed in a retail store composition and poorly written lyrics. The song indulges its audience, championing that it’s socially acceptable to show emotion.

Her past record Forever Neverland tip-toed its way through nuanced themes of adolescence and growing up. It’s not an easy task to weave a project through heavy emotions, but the 2018 record did so incredibly well compared to Motordrome. The lyrics were refined, features well-placed. While powerfully belting out heartfelt ballads, it still remained airy, refreshing and fun. 

Motordrome is just fine. The album doesn’t venture into anything particularly remarkable, but here and there, it boasts a handful of catchy songs. It is not an album that will probably be recommended to a friend. While Andersen’s project can still be appreciated for its vulnerability and singularity, it will most likely be lost to the dungeon of retail hell.

Contact Kaitlin Clapinski at [email protected].